The US military has just updated its regulations with the intent of improving the protection of military religious freedom.
Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1300.17 was previously known as “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services,” but is now re-titled simply “Religious Liberty in the Military Services” (PDF). The new DoDI title sets the tone for a policy that presupposes religious liberty, rather than treats it as an outlier that may sometimes be “accommodated.”
That change in tone mimics the tone change in religious liberty policies in the Air Force – which may not be a coincidence. The new DoDI was approved by Undersecretary of Defense Matthew Donovan – a former Air Force fighter pilot who has been both an Undersecretary of the Air Force and even the Acting Secretary of the Air Force in the past few years, during which the tenor (if not always the actions) of Air Force policy leaned toward religious freedom.
It seems President Trump’s selection of Undersecretary Donovan may have set the stage for improving religious liberty in the US military.
As to the DoDI itself, it notably Read more
Chris Rodda has long been a “creative” writer, despite her sometimes claim to be an apparent amateur historian. While she has been quick to call out the errors of others with whom she disagrees, she ignores the errors of those who are on her side. She has also published a bevy of, to put it nicely, misleading writings. For someone so quick to call others “liars,” she has a very unique view of the truth.
With that in mind, Rodda published a blog yesterday with an attention-grabbing title:
National Defense Authorization Act to Include Military Training on How to Force Religion on Others.
Like much of what she writes, though, her title wasn’t true. (Most obviously, the NDAA hasn’t left either side of Congress yet, much less gone through conference committee or to the President. In other words, the NDAA doesn’t “include” anything yet.)
The short version of a long, meandering blog (Rodda has never been one for being succinct), is that Rodda is upset about Senate bill 4049, which was introduced in the Senate only a couple of weeks ago. Within it, the Senate requires the US military to conduct training on “Religious Accommodation” that must include:
- Federal statutes, DoD Instructions, Service regulations regarding religious liberty and accommodation for members of the Armed Forces
- The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993
- Section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013
- Section 528 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016
Of that content, Rodda takes issue only with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The RFRA is fairly short, and it says the government cannot “substantially burden” exercise of religion, with some Read more
An unnamed Air Force chaplain sent a formally formatted complaint to Michael “Mikey” Weinstein in early May, claiming the National Guard Bureau had established “Protestant Christianity” as the “official religion” of the Guard’s Strong Bonds program.
As if to reinforce the fact the letter was written specifically for public consumption, just a few hours after receiving it Weinstein sent off his “demand” letter to General Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Weinstein made no new allegations but asserted those of the chaplain, who had complained about a line from a National Guard MOI on Strong Bonds. Regarding Strong Bonds events, the official Memorandum of Instruction said
One voluntary worship service will be conducted at all overnight training sessions, serving to the extent possible, the largest religious demographic represented in accordance with the Constitutional mandate to provide for the “free exercise of religion”. (See “DODI 1300.17”; “AFI 52-101”).
Military regulations can sometimes be ambiguous, vague, and even self-contradictory, so it is understandable that even well-meaning or intelligent members of the military might misunderstand them.
But even graciously speaking, that’s not what happened Read more
US Army SFC Timothy Seppala is a Religious Affairs Specialist, otherwise known as a chaplain’s assistant. He recently wrote a few articles about the chaplaincy and one on “Reconciling your Morality: Finding the Common Ground.”
The article begins with a fairly reassuring statement that morality is “highly objective”, but it soon becomes clear SFC Seppala meant the other word [emphasis added]:
The truth is that morality can come from almost anywhere and is something that is unique to each individual.
As you can imagine, having so many sources of morality leads to many different views on what is right and wrong.
In other words, Seppala mean to say morality is subjective, not objective. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the article on morality.
Seppala goes on to note that social issues divide society — and the US military reflects the society from which it is drawn, even on issues of morality [emphasis added]: Read more
A coalition of 27 retired General officers signed a letter (PDF) urging the US Department of Defense to allow Sikhs to serve in the US military. Currently, Sikhs must abandon the articles of their faith — including uncut hair, beards, and turbans — before they can join the military:
Although Sikhs have served honorably in the U.S. military since World War I, restrictive appearance regulations adopted in 1981 created barriers to their service. Revisions earlier this year to DOD Instruction 1300.17 make it possible for service members to request religious accommodations; however, the new guidelines presumptively exclude Sikh articles of faith, forcing Sikhs to repeatedly apply for waivers and even violate their religion while an accommodation request is pending.
One of the notable signatures on the letter is Read more
For the first time in several years, Congress passed and the President signed a National Defense Authorization Act with no sections directing the US military on issues of religious liberty. Over the prior few years, Congress has inserted legislation requiring protection of religious expression within the military, for example, which resulted in changes to DoDI 1300.17 and Air Force Instruction 1-1.
One thing the NDAA does include, however, is authorization to transfer the Mount Soledad Memorial Cross to a private organization: Read more
Update: J.B. Wells wonders aloud if the DoD intentionally produced the policy to change the religious freedom focus to turbans and beards while keeping “liberal constituencies” like Michael Weinstein “at bay.”
There have been a wide variety of responses to the US military’s update to DODI 1300.17 (accommodating religious freedom), with language that seems to imply a more open attitude toward outward display and expression of religious belief.
The Christian Post, like many sites, focused on the apparent ability to wear religious accoutrements:
The Pentagon reportedly decided to change its policy on religious wear after Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a Sikh, spoke at a Congressional briefing about the challenges American Sikhs face in the military earlier in January. Kalsi told members of Congress that he believes he can effectively serve his country while still maintaining his religious appearance, including an uncut beard and a turban.
While that may or may not have been a factor, the DoDI clearly includes language from both the 2013 and 2014 National Defense Authorization Acts — that is, requirements levied by Congress, not just reconsideration based on serving Soldiers.
The US Navy appeared to try to quell Read more
A host of websites have reported the US Department of Defense has “relaxed” its rules regarding religious accommodation. More accurately, the military has updated its policies on requesting such accommodations in a manner that does seem to imply they will be more amenable to such requests. Department of Defense Instruction 1300.17 (DoDI 1300.17) now has “Change 1”, which can be found here (PDF).
“The new policy states that military departments will accommodate religious requests of service members,” [Pentagon spokesman Navy LtCmdr Nathan Christensen] said, “unless a request would have an adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion and good order and discipline.”
When a service member requests such an accommodation, he added, department officials balance the need of the service member against the need to accomplish the military mission. Such a request is denied only if an official determines that mission accomplishment needs outweigh the need of the service member, Christensen said.
The key word in the quote and the instruction itself — the DoD will accommodate.
These changes include an apparent allowance of religious facial hair and “body art,” as well as direct responses to the 2013 and 2014 National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) requiring the US military to accommodate religious expression: Read more